Chronic disease filling up northern NSW emergency rooms

CHRONIC disease is filling up northern NSW emergency departments.

More than 1700 patients across the Northern NSW Local Health District were taken to hospital because of chest pain last year - more than any other diagnosis.

Through last year, 3516 people attended emergency departments across northern NSW with chest trouble, and 1749 were admitted.

The NSW Heart Foundation has identified northern NSW as a high risk area with residents up to 30% more likely to suffer heart disease than Sydney residents.

Heart Foundation NSW chief Kerry Doyle says, like much of regional NSW, North Coast residents were at much greater risk of heart disease than metropolitan residents.

"Because of the distances, people in rural and regional NSW have to drive more," she says.

"It seems counter-intuitive, but in regional areas people can't get around walking as much as in the cities.

"In the Richmond Valley and Tweed, nearly a third of people have cardiovascular disease, it's only a little better around Grafton and Coffs Harbour where it is just less than a quarter."

Ms Doyle says the rates of obesity and smoking were higher in regional areas and residents had less access to medical care.

Heart Foundation chief Kerry Doyle warned while chest pain was the most well known heart attack symptom it was not the only one.

"For 30% of men and 40% of women, heart attacks have non-typical symptoms," she says.

"That can be jaw, shoulder or back pain - or even no pain at all. Sometimes it can be dizziness, breathlessness, nausea or just a feeling that something is not right."

Ms Doyle says blood pressure and cholesterol were heart disease's silent killers.

"They aren't something you can know are wrong until you get a check-up," she says.

NSW Australian Medical Association president Dr Saxon Smith says while chest pain could result from a number of complaints, the prevalence of heart disease was a major concern in northern NSW.

Dr Smith says the hospitalisation rate for people with chest pain was so high because medical professionals wanted to ensure patients were treated if they were having a heart attack.

He says regional NSW residents had less access to health care than metropolitan residents and had higher risks of heart disease, strokes, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

"The access to a doctor just isn't as readily available to people who live in regional areas," he says.